Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Exclusive: Lee Drew closes the gap between players and referees

Goodwill hunting pays off for Drew Boy as he builds up PSA database 
By MIKE DALE – Squash Mad Columnist

Leedrew_wideHe’s familiar to Squash TV viewers as co-commentator ‘Drew Boy’, offering lyrical analysis on the PSA tour. Having reached world No.45 as a player and ascended England’s coaching hierarchy, the multi-talented Lee Drew is now sinking his teeth into one of squash’s newest and toughest jobs.

Appointed as the first-ever PSA Referee and Refereeing Director in January, Drew’s task is to bring harmony to the antagonistic relationship between the world’s professional players and the men behind the back wall.

Relations between officials and players have been fractious for as long as the words ‘let please’ have existed in the sport’s lexicon, but the need for goodwill between squash’s factions has never been more urgent.

Sponsors, TV companies and, most importantly, the International Olympic Committee, are not keen on the frequent, confusing and disruptive stoppages as players collide and ask for lets, let alone the unedifying disputes and dissent that frequently follow.

Squash needs to sanitise to eradicate these ills and market itself as a TV-friendly ‘product’.

This is the wider context to Drew’s appointment and his task will require diplomacy and tact. No coincidence, then, that he is widely-respected, ambitious and articulate.

“I’m a thinker. I always look to reflect and analyse,” he told Squash Mad. “The way that England [ESR] have developed me has helped me a lot in terms of my problem solving, dealing with people and my communication.

“I have a growth mind set and want to improve the whole time. I would hope that in a year’s time I’ll be completely different again and have moved on another stage in terms of how I deal with situations. It’s an ongoing process.”

Last week’s Canary Wharf Classic was Drew’s first real opportunity to sit down with referees and the leading male players (he’s had no contact with the WSA yet) and exchange ideas on how to achieve progress. The initial feedback was, he says, overwhelmingly positive.

It was an opportune week for the 37-year-old to make his presence felt, with the ugly first-round match between Egyptian pair Omar Mosaad and Karim Abdel Gawad featuring 70 stoppages and much acrimony – precisely the kind of image-damaging spectacle Drew is tasked with eradicating.

“I sat down with Omar Mosaad afterwards,” Drew reveals . “He had already watched a replay of the match. He came to me with his opinion and where he felt he went wrong. He was very pro-active in looking to change and make it better. Once you’ve got that kind of intent it’s such a positive thing.karomar

“I think there will always be the odd flare-up and contentious match. What’s most important is how we deal with it, discuss it and work together and make it better so it’s less likely to happen again.”

Drew intends to hold a first big meeting with PSA players at the British Open in May where he will present a database of over 100 match video clips each referring to a specific rule.

He has added commentary, annotations and analysis to each clip and will canvas players’ and referees’ views on how they feel each rule should be interpreted in different match situations.

Drew says of the video database: “It will give a clear idea to referees and players alike of how the PSA want the game played. It will be a case of, ‘In this situation in future, if this player doesn’t go through to play this ball, that will be a no-let.’

“I think that will start to get rid of the grey areas and target the current problematic areas very quickly.”

As well as meeting many players at Canary Wharf last week, the Colchester-based coach spent time with referees. On the morning of the final, he and PSA chief operations officer Lee Beachill joined two officials as they analysed their performance in the previous nights’ semi-finals.

Even in this brief initial contact, Drew felts his playing and coaching background (he is England national squad coach and a former ESR Elite Coach of the Year) brought a new perspective to referees’ interpretation of match scenarios.

“Referees discuss these things among themselves but I come in with a slightly different ex-player’s and now coach’s viewpoint. I can discuss the lines of players coming in or clearing in relation to where the ball has landed, and the options that a player may have.

“For example, a ball down the right hand side of the court may look like a stroke or a let-ball – but if the player is a left-hander and the ball is quite a way behind them, you know that from that position they’re going to be flicking. You know then that the odds of them cross-courting it are virtually nil, so that would take the stroke out of play immediately.

“It’s those sorts of technical details that I can discuss with them that they wouldn’t have got before.

“In the heat of the moment it’s always going to be subjective and there’s always going to be moments when [decisions] could go either way. You’re playing in a congested area, jostling for confined space. We just need everyone to know deep down that there’s an underlying message that we’re all trying to do the same thing.

“It’s very hard to get people on the same page if there’s not enough communication between both parties. I think hopefully I can make a difference by giving a voice to both players and referees, so we’re all working in one direction to make the game better to watch and play.”

Drew recognises the criticisms made by fellow coach David Pearson in his recent Squash Mad blog about referees’ tone of voice and use of language that players find alienating.

daryljkDrew moots the idea of NLP courses to improve referees’ communication skills and even a referees’ phrasebook to help them provide more clarity in their explanations.

“I don’t think theirs is an easy job and they’ve only got a split second to work things out,” he says. “What we need to make sure is that the logic and rationale behind it stands up. You can make a wrong decision but there has to have been a rationale behind it so you can say, ‘this is the reason I did this’. Then it becomes more understandable and it’s easier for players to accept.”

Drew accepts another of Pearson’s observations – that elite refereeing is dominated by old, unpaid men. He intends to make it more of an attractive profession by lobbying for referees to be paid (although it’s unclear who will fund this as yet).

He’s combating the age issue by looking to US Squash’s model. The American governing body put all juniors in their system through an online refereeing course. Eventually, regardless of their standard as players, they’re left with confident and able referees, who are theoretically well-placed to take it up as a profession. Drew is very interested in this as a long-term global blueprint.

Lee, too, is open to changes which would help combat frequent uncertainty over clean pick-ups. This was brought into focus at the Tournament of Champions when Peter Barker was criticised for playing on despite an obvious double bounce in his match against Mathieu Castagnet.

Although he doesn’t envisage changes to the current three-referee system, Drew says the use of local officials seated to the side of the glass court to look for double bounces is “definitely something worth looking at” with the WSF.

With his plentiful use of “being on the same page” and “opening up lines of communication”, Lee has already nailed the phraseology of the successful modern-day mediator. But, more than anything, it’s his love of the game that may bring him most success as he navigates a tricky path towards improving our sport’s image.

“The game is so explosive, fast, attacking and dynamic, played in a battleground but with artistic expression,” he says. “It’s just a wonderful spectacle and I don’t think there are many sports that can match it in that sense.

“The more we can get that happening and watch these superb athletes operating, the better position we’ll be in.”


Picture by Patrick Lauson and Bryan Lintott


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